A Look Back, a Look Ahead

Depending on where you sit in this industry, 2013 was a year of great change and great drama, some of it tragic. Though you might be reading this during a rest break while on a long trip over the Christmas holidays, this is still a time to “slow down the conveyor belt” just a little and think about where we’ve been during the past year, and where we might go in the next year. Even if operations experience little or no let-up over these next two weeks, it’s the one time of year we traditionally take stock of the recent past and the near future.

The significant accidents of the year – Asiana 214 (KSFO), UPS 1354 (KBHM), Southwest 345 (KLGA) – all occurred in a span of a few weeks, in North America during the summer of 2013, and all have generated great interest in what might have been happening on the flight deck, specifically within the crew, with respect to control of the aircraft flight path. There were others, of course, but these drew a lot of attention from the national media as well as flight crews around the world. We’ve been advocating a better and more rigorous framework for addressing the human-machine relationship for years, and with the publication of Automation Airmanship in May of 2013, that framework is now available for the entire global industry as we look forward to a long run of accident-free operations. Understanding these accidents may be easier by looking at them through the lens of the 9 principles explained in our book.

This past year the Flight Safety Foundation drew the industry’s attention to the significant role that Unstable Approaches play in runway excursions. Clearly, the industry needs to pick up the slack in this area as well. If you haven’t been keeping up with it, go to their website (or you can start by looking through our archives on this blog) for a head start in building rigorous standards for “stable approaches” into your own procedures and practices in the coming year.

It might seem that a lot has been done to highlight areas that flight crews across the globe need to work on to eliminate operational threats to safety, but a lot has also been done to build knowledge, resiliency, and durability into the actions of front-line aircrews. We pledge to continue our efforts to simplify, clarify, and justify our recommendations for building a “knowledge reserve” for you and your colleagues. We know that the manufacturers, regulators and operators are advancing into the future with bold technology solutions. We are glad to lead the charge into that same future with bold human-centered solutions that work to keep you and your operation safe and efficient in the face of so much change. Let’s make it a collective objective to meet here again in a year, having little to discuss when it comes to major accidents in 2014.

Next month, as we begin the New Year, we will look at the strengths – and weaknesses – that are hallmarks of the human half of the human-machine team.

Happy Holidays, and remember to “Fly First” – no matter what.


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